Ever wondered what solo travel would be like? We’re talking just you, a few changes of clothes, your phone, your passport, maybe a camera. It’s a liberating thought. Rasha Yousif knows just what’s like.
Or maybe you’re a seasoned solo traveler. You’ll know what it’s like to discover a new place, go at your own pace, and let curiosity be your compass. You’ll know what it’s like to let in your surroundings and observe without judgement.
People in our region aren’t strangers to travel. Centuries ago, our ancestors crossed land and sea searching for spices, tea, gold, and other goods. Then came the generation of London, Paris, Cairo, and Beirut. That was the generation that was always well-dressed and snazzy!
We’re the generation of selfies and repetitive food photography. We’re some of the most well-traveled people in the world. But we’re starting to think about other ways of experiencing different places and cultures.
Today, we talk to Rasha Yousif, a Bahraini travel photographer who has traveled to 50 countries worldwide. Rasha Yousif tells us about her journeys and experiences as a solo female traveler. What’s it like to take hold of your passport and be free to do what you want in a new country?
Have you wondered what it would be like to travel alone? Or maybe you’re already a solo travel expert? Let Rasha Yousif tell you what it’s like to travel solo as a female Arab photographer.
Rasha, we see you as a sort of female Ibn Battutah! You’re on an active mission to see the world. What drives you to do this?
Ibn Battutah himself is a great inspiration for my travels. His long journey inspired me to see the world and keep seeking knowledge from other cultures. But for me, photography is my main motivation for exploring the world. I love documenting cultural diversity and traditions.
We hear the word “wanderlust” a lot these days. How (and where) did you first become interested in travel and photography?
Wanderlust is a feeling of wanting to travel all the time. I suffer from constant wanderlust. Travel and photography are my obsession. I bought my first professional camera before going on an exchange program to the United States. During the trip, I really discovered my passion for photography. Back in Bahrain, I read about photography and went to workshops and just never stopped learning. Photography has been my obsession since then. I read, write and travel just for photography. I also started blogging during the same period. I wanted to share my passion for photography and learn from other photographers.
Can you tell us about your experience traveling solo as an Arab woman?
I’m on a very interesting journey. I’m exploring the world. At the same time, I get to see how different cultures react to me as an Arab Muslim woman. I notice the degree of their tolerance and acceptance of me. My solo travel journey breaks the stereotypical image of the Arab woman as a vulnerable woman dependent on others.
Definitely so. Tell us more about people’s reactions, both within the Bahraini community and abroad?
The whole community has been very receptive of my journey. I also get a lot of encouragement from other travelers from around the world. I’m so happy to be inspiring other women to break through the fear of traveling the world solo.
Can you tell us more about your project, Qaflh?
Qaflh is a customized travel experience to handpicked countries that leaves a taste on your tongue! I came up with the idea as a response to the requests of many friends and followers who wanted to join my travels. I launched Qaflh earlier this year with a trip to India during Holi festival. In the future, I intend to plan other similar culturally-rich trips. The trips are great for photography enthusiasts but everyone is welcome to apply. I try to choose participants that are in line with Qaflh’s mission and style.
We’ first got to know about Rasha Yousif through her globetrotting Instagram page! Rasha, do you have any advice for women interested in travel and photography but who can’t travel due to their circumstances?
You don’t need to go to the North Pole to have the globetrotting experience. Start by traveling within your own country. If you can, take a bigger leap and visit a neighboring country. That was how I started. Then I joined prearranged expeditions and workshops abroad. Slowly but surely, I gained the confidence to start traveling solo. You can also get the help or advice of travel agents to do the planning of the trip.
What has been your favorite destination so far and why?
I love India for its diversity and its many colorful layers. I also had memorable travels in Vietnam, Japan and Morocco. Zanzibar! I’ll never forget a moment of that trip. Zanzibar was my first solo photography expedition. My camera was my only companion. I usually attend photography workshops while traveling, but in Zanzibar I didn’t have a guide. I took it as a challenge to test my maturity as a photographer and to document a culture I think is fascinating. It was a trip of self-discovery and getting to know my capabilities.
Last but not least, do you have any funny or weird travel stories to share?
I was traveling alone in Sudan. I took a taxi to go to the hotel and the taxi driver was being friendly and making small talk. I always try not to give personal details when I’m traveling solo. To protect myself, I sometimes hide my nationality. When the driver asked where I was from, I said I was Iraqi. He surprised me when he said he had lived many years in Iraq and wanted to know where about in Iraq I was from! I immediately said that I have no remaining relatives in Iraq and know nothing of it as all my family have either relocated or ceased to exist. He continued to ask many questions about Iraq and I was only relieved when we reached the hotel. The next day, I was leaving the same café and stopped a taxi and to my surprise he recognized me and said hello Iraqi girl! I had to redo the act again!